March 5, 2010 / 10:21 PM / 9 years ago

MIT lab looks to build on history of innovation

BOSTON (Reuters Life!) - The research laboratory that brought the world wearable computers, early social networking platforms and programmable Lego bricks is entering its second quarter-century in a shiny new showcase.

Peter Schmitt, a PhD student at the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, shows the powered wheels he designed for a prototype of the City Car, a collapsible, electric, battery powered car he helped create at MIT, in Cambridge, Massachusetts November 13, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab has moved into its new home — a six-story, 163,000-square foot glass building designed by Pritzker prize-winning architect Fumihiko Maki.

“This really delivered on the vision of a unique way of doing research,” said Frank Moss, director of the media lab. “Buildings are important, and this building is a tremendous asset.”

The lab is a department within MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning, and is devoted to research projects at the confluence of technology and multi-media.

The new building houses seven units that face one another across a central atrium in a staggered configuration to promote maximum openness and collaboration between groups.

Researchers are drawn from a range of disciplines, from engineers, physicians and computer scientists to artists and musicians.

Research groups carry tags ranging from Lifelong Kindergarten to Camera Culture to New Media Medicine.

In the medicine area, electrical engineering PhD student Grant Elliott, 25, demonstrated new prosthetic prototypes, such as the “active ankle foot orthotic” that model the efficiency of human locomotion in ways never seen before.

Across the floor, research assistant John Moore, a former doctor, is working on ways to allow people to become active participants in their own health care, from mobile phone “apps” to collaborative workstations that would allow a doctor and patient to brainstorm together.

Serious stuff. Some of the lab’s projects are pure whimsy, though.

In the light-filled atrium, swimming carp are projected onto a “PingPongPlus” table, a digitally enhanced version of the classic game created by the Tangible Media unit. The rhythm of play drives accompanying music and visuals.

Almost all of the lab’s funding comes from corporations. About 60 companies underwrite the enterprise with base sponsorships of $200,000 a year, creating a pool of funds that is doled out to various research units.

Companies sponsoring the lab at a certain level have royalty-free access to the lab’s intellectual property.

Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Patricia Reaney

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